10 years of visitor management

A Decade of Visitor Management: Interview with WhosOnLocation CEO & Founder, Darren Whitaker-Barnett

Bridie Kruck

11 minutes read time

December 18, 2019

As the year draws to a close, we are also closing out the decade. As we talked about this around the office we realized that it’s been a little over 10 years since the inception of cloud visitor management. 

We sat down with our CEO and Founder Darren Whitaker-Barnett to talk through the evolution of visitor and people presence management over the last 10 years and what his predictions are for the future of the industry and WhosOnLocation. 

Firstly, thanks for taking the time out of your busy day to chat about the evolution of WhosOnLocation and the industry as a whole.

No problem, happy to share the love. The opportunity to reflect is a privilege. 

How long have you worked within visitor and people presence management? 

It’s a decade! I started with an early concept/version in 2010, launching WhosOnLocation in 2012. 

Wow, 10 years! I bet you’ve seen a few changes over this time?

Yes, I’ve seen quite a few changes, and these have been driven by the rapid adoption of new technologies and changes in the geopolitical landscape. On the technology side, we have seen a big pivot from client-side visitor management to visitor management as a cloud service. This change has, in turn, had a great effect on the accessibility, affordability, and scope of the visitor and people presence market as a whole. Pre the era of ‘cloud services’ visitor management was really the domain of high security facilities, government agencies, and the largest of corporate entities only. But the cloud delivered lower cost options, easier deployment, and a rapid acceleration in new functionality. As a result, visitor management has been adopted by small and medium sized businesses and not-for-profits. We have also seen applications and services evolve to meet the specific needs of particular sectors like schools, healthcare, manufacturing, and utilities.

You mentioned geopolitical influences. What did you mean by that?

When we first started WhosOnLocation our buyer was a cloud-native administrator or IT Business Analyst. We knew more about cloud services than they did, regulatory, political, or geographical considerations had next to zero influence on the decision, and we were largely left to sell based on receptionist productivity gains and improved visitor security practices. Where your data resided no one really cared. As long as the uptime was 99.99% it simply came down to ‘does the solution solve our problem’. Today the world is a different beast. 

Trust is now a huge part of the engagement process. Social media and the inappropriate use of ‘your’ personally identifiable data is now a topic around water coolers. Data is stored and transferred between countries at the speed of light, and the awareness of how organizations use data has never been more in the public conscious. If you are going to allow a service to manage who enters and leaves your facilities then the service provider had better be able to provide evidence and give assurances that they have controls in place to ensure the retention of data sovereignty, have adequate protection to facilitate the transfer of information, be compliant with GDPR and/or Privacy Shield, and demonstrate that they meet internationally recognized ‘trust’ certificates in the form of ISO Accreditation and/or SOC 1 and 2 Type reports, and align with standards prescribed by the likes of ITAR, C-PAT, and many others.

The impact of geopolitical influences was never more apparent than when President Barack Obama signed the Patriot Sunsets Extension Act on May 26, 2011; which allowed a continuation of roving wiretaps and searches of business records. This saw an unprecedented reaction from non-US corporates, businesses, and government agencies seeking to remove any cloud services from US owned or controlled data stores. Of course, time does heal many wounds, along with the adoption of recognized data handling standards, treaties, and inter-country regulatory frameworks like GDPR and Privacy Shield. Today AWS, as one example, provides the necessary architecture configurations to ensure data sovereignty amongst other elements of data security. 

Thinking about your last 10 years in the industry. What are your biggest achievements and why? 

Gosh, as a company we’ve had many. For me personally, it’s: 

  1. WhosOnLocation becoming a global leader in the visitor and people presence management space. We originate from a small country but the cloud model we adopted has enabled us to develop and deliver a truly world-class product to thousands of facilities managed by some of the world’s leading organizations across 39 countries. To have achieved this without a Series A funding round is rewarding in itself given most of our competitors have required multiple rounds. We have not acquired the market by dominating google searches; we have taken a more sustainable approach, that being through operational and product excellence. 
  2. Developing a company and culture where staff are in for the long journey. We have incredibly high employee retention. The low staff attrition ensures we retain IP, are able to grow our business and have continuity in the product and service we deliver. 
  3. And just this year achieving ISO27001 certification. For myself and the team, this represents more than being able to provide evidence of good practice in information security management to our customers and stakeholders; it represents trust.   

Tell me a bit more about employee retention. What is it that makes WhosOnLocation so unique with employee retention

I strongly believe that intelligence, innovation, wisdom, creativity, vision, and leadership does not sit with those with managerial titles. We have, from day one, encouraged every member of our team to make a contribution and participate in all aspects of our business. This has brought high levels of innovation and continuous improvement and gives employees the opportunity to set the rules and landscape for the future of WhosOnLocation. Our early employees (most are still employees) have helped the company grow and drive systems to ensure success. 

What is the biggest evolution you have seen in the industry?  

The biggest explosion is with data: Business insights, business intelligence, big data, call it what you will. Don’t just think ‘who’, ‘where they are from’ and ‘date and time of entry; today’s systems will allow you to know:  

  • Where they entered and/or departed a multi-entry point facility
  • If they are hosted or not
  • The purpose of visit or presence (work, meeting, task or function, etc….) 
  • If they acknowledged any hazard warnings as they arrived on-site or departed 
  • What zones within your facility they visited, and for how long 
  • If they have agreed to your visitor policies, scanned an acceptable form of identity credential, have a disability or need assistance in an emergency event or their vehicle occupies a space in your parking garage
  • How long they are expected to be on-site and if they are overdue 
  • And so much more…

How important is the role of innovation? 

Innovation is incredibly important. It’s not just about window dressing the product. Innovation runs through the DNA of WhosOnLocation. From the retention of employees to a better way to operate or doing something better or less taxing. It’s also important to maintain a leadership position and voice of authority in the market. Overall it’s about making sure customers are always seeing the value and delivering what they need before they need it. We need to keep innovating, it’s important to keep relevant – I’d never want to suffer a Nokia or Kodak moment where they didn’t see the innovation coming.

As a company, you have launched a lot of features over the past decade, most recently WolMobile. What do you rate as your best release and why? 

We sure have released some great features and enhancements over the last 10 years. My personal favorite is WolEvac. WolEvac brings the entire dream to life. The original genesis for WhosOnLocation was to help organizations account for people in their duty of care using a world-class integrated system offering visitor, contract and employee management.  If you look at WhosOnLocation without WolEvac we are an identity access management service. We are leaders in our field but no one else is doing evacuation management like we are, when you combine this with our other features in one product we’ve got all the bases covered. I’m really looking forward to the refresh of WolEvac in 2020. 

Running and growing a company is not always an easy road. What are the two things you’d like to change in your role as CEO? 

  1.  I’d like to spend more time with family and friends and taking time out to reflect. I am at my best when I have had the opportunity to refresh and recharge – and I don’t do that enough, but I recognize its value. That said, I am sure most founders wouldn’t be where they are without having burnt that candle at both ends in the early years.
  2. The second change would be to acquire the superpower of tele-transportation. I tell you; international travel sounds glamorous but it takes a real toll. But seriously, I’d love to find a better way to be more connected with our customers around the globe.

From what you know now, if you could tell your 2010 self one thing what would it be? 

Don’t sweat the small stuff and let my employees succeed quicker by allowing them to fail fast. 

What is your prediction for what we can expect to see in this space in the next 2 – 3 years? 

Scope Beyond the Visitor: We are already seeing services that enable organizations to manage ‘all people in their duty of care’, not just visitors. Today’s enterprise systems manage visitor, contractor, vendor, supplier, and employee presence in a single service, and I see this becoming more prevalent as the integration of IoT and analytics with presence systems becomes more entrenched in both building management systems, health and safety systems, and security platforms.

Big Data Analytics and AI: The adoption of advanced data analytics, machine learning, and AI within the physical security and safety industries is only in its infancy. As organizations capture larger data sets around the presence of people accessing their facilities; the symbiotic relationship between this data and real-time video, facial recognition and ID matching services, and the IoT will become essential ingredients in the recipe for strengthening the safety and physical security of people, assets, and IP within an organization’s care.

‘Smart Offices’ and ‘Smart Workplaces’: Today, organizations are integrating automated systems faster than ever before, making their offices and workplaces super-efficient, bringing down operating costs, and also creating a suitable and well-connected working environment for employees. However the availability of presence systems that enable an organization to not only manage visitor presence but also that of employees, contractors, vendors, and suppliers in a single service also enables the ‘scope’ of the ‘smart workplace’ and its ROI to extend beyond the employee.

What is your big ambition for WhosOnLocation and the industry as a whole? 

To be the world leader in the integrated people presence space by helping enterprise organizations around the globe manage their safety and security in one place across employees, visitors and service providers.  

Do you have any parting thoughts you’d like to share?

Yes, it’s really exciting to be involved in an industry that is relatively new and sharing the exciting adventure with a group of companies like ProxyClick, Envoy, Sine, PassagePoint, and SwipedOn. Together we are leading the way in bringing robust and scalable visitor management to the forefront as facility managers are looking at how best to manage the safety of their people, assets, and IP. 

And one final question, you love what you do, if you won the lottery would you pack it in?

No, because I still have a lot more I want to do. So many companies in the world are not able to keep people safe, we want to help show them how. The job is undone. We are just getting started! 

About WhosOnLocation

WhosOnLocation provides people presence management software that monitors the safe and secure movement of people through buildings and work sites. Our powerful, cloud-based solution unites visitor, contractor, employee, and emergency management, enabling organizations to secure their facilities and ensure the safety of every person on-site.

Armed with a rich, unified source of people presence information, our users are empowered to make more strategic, data-driven decisions that mitigate risk, reduce overhead costs, and streamline operations.

WhosOnLocation serves organizations in 39 countries around the world, protecting billions of dollars in assets and IP, and managing over 20 million secure movements through over 2500 facilities each year.